Horizon and the duck of love…

After a week of DIY bathroom renovation, we decided to take the fam out to dinner at one of our favorite downtown Roanoke spots, Horizon Bar and Grill. We called ahead so we could ensure getting Troy as our server. The food is always innovative and tasty, but unless you get Troy, the service is generally lacking.

We arrived to a packed restaurant and live music set up outside. This is a regular occurrence on Fridays and can be loud due to the proximity of the tables. There is also smoking outside so be warned when you plan to go there on a Friday night, ask for an indoor table; you can still hear the music, but also enjoy conversation with your companions.

Troy brought me the wine menu to peruse along with their “Wine Specials” flyer. They have a limited selection of bottles for $15 that have been hit or miss for us. I know what you’re thinking, “Who cares if it is hit or miss, you can’t even buy a decent bottle at the grocery store for $15…” but I expect to be able to find good wines at reasonable prices. Don’t get me wrong, I will happily shell out for a bottle of sumptuous Langtry Meritage or herbaceous Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc. I like great wine, but I also appreciate good value. It was hot so I decided on a bright Sauvignon Blanc, Mercer. It has a Meyer lemon and grapefruit finish reminiscent of the New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. Luckily, they had it in stock. On other occasions, I have ordered up to 5 different bottles that they are out of. It is frustrating to find a bottle you are excited about only to be told they are out of stock and this remains one of the negatives about this place. I’m not sure what is going on, but their wine stock is never stable.

Dinner decisions were complicated due to a new “Weekend Wine Dinner” offering. My husband was very intrigued and decided to give this a whirl. In addition to his first course, we ordered the caprese salad and the meatballs served over creamy polenta with smoked tomato sauce to start. Horizon’s version of the caprese salad is a work of art on the plate. They use beautiful local heirloom tomatoes, handmade buffalo mozzarella, fresh chiffonade of basil and an unctuous balsamic reduction. It is served on a simple white serving dish that sets the colors of the food. The meatballs offered a rustic counterpart to the elegant caprese. They were juicy and well-seasoned served over some of the silkiest polenta I have ever had in a restaurant. The highlight though, was the smoky tomato sauce. It had chunks of charred tomato and the deep flavors of late summer, completely delicious! Last to the table was the first course of the wine dinner, a crab and grapefruit salad. It had layers of lump crab, ruby red grapefruit sections, green leaf lettuce and what seemed to be a cilantro-lemon vinaigrette. It was refreshing, but not as standout as the caprese or the meatballs.

The second course for the wine dinner arrived as Troy was clearing our plates. It was a fried quail rested atop cheddar cheese polenta and served with pickled greens. We each tried a taste and the kids loved the quail. It was good, but not great in my opinion. The breading was judicious and the pickled greens were a nice touch, but the quail was slightly tough and overwhelmed by the other flavors on the plate.

Our entrees arrived and the duck was as lovely as I remembered. We had ordered the New York strip steak served over an apple and potato hash with brandied brussel sprouts, the sautéed clam and pancetta pasta, a jerked duck breast served over plantain puree with smoked peach jam and broccolini. The main course for the wine dinner was grilled tri-tip with smoked mashed potatoes, baked bean puree and cracklins. The NY strip was nicely marbled and had a perfectly cooked rare center. I was excited about the brussel sprouts but they were somewhat overcooked and mushy. The parmesan sauce that was served with the strip steak was very tasty. It had a nice salty pungency that layered well with the buttery steak. The clam pasta had a generous portion of clams and pancetta tossed in an olive oil, lemon and garlic sauce. The Tri-tip was cooked nicely medium-rare and the baked bean puree was interesting. I liked the flavor profile, but it shocked me that it was served cold against the warm steak. The star though, was the jerked duck breast. It was tender, medium-rare and bursting with flavor. Covering it was a chili Verdi sauce that had just the right amount of heat. Accompanying it was a bright, crisp bunch of sautéed broccolini. The plantain puree was a nice texture component against the duck and broccolini, a definite homerun dish!

Dessert was an avocado and goat cheese flan with fig caramel and a banana, chocolate bread pudding. The flan was an adventurous eater’s dream. The caramel was viscous and the perfect sweetness to the goat cheese and avocado profile of the flan. Loved it! The bread pudding was less fabulous, but decent.

My husband and I always muse that Horizon has all the makings of the best restaurant in Roanoke. The chef is inventive and adept in his cooking techniques. Local produce, meats and cheeses play dominantly in the menu offerings and the dining room is casual enough to exude comfort. The wine menu and service are our two issues, but if you take my advice and ask for Troy that eliminates one. Don’t let the wine menu stop you from going; you would be missing out on some of the best food in Roanoke.

Horizon also does cooking demonstrations at the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and offers an amazing brunch menu on Sunday. The brunch menu has the same eclectic fare as the dinner menu and will not disappoint. Dinner entrees range from $14-$20, appetizers are anywhere from $6- $10. There are also many vegetarian entrees available, as well as kids options. So go, explore and eat food you will not find anywhere else in Roanoke!
Horizon Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

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